I was reading through Sloane Stephens’ comments about her “nonexistent” relationships with Victoria Azarenka, and I thought something sounded off. It took me a couple of days, but I finally remembered a one-on-one interview I did with Stephens in March of 2012 after the Miami tournament. As I chatted with her that day, Stephens was adamant about her love for Azarenka, and expressed it in a very strange way.
Of course, feelings are allowed to change, that’s far from a crime. But still, I thought the interview was an interesting look back at Stephens nearly two years ago, before any of the success, controversy, or confusion took over her persona.
The article was originally posted on 10sWorld.com, but since that site is down, I have decided to re-post it here for the time being. Man, a lot has changed in the last two years.
Sloane Stephens : Healthy, Happy, and Nineteen
If you don’t know much about Sloane Stephens now, you will soon. It’s only a matter of time before the nineteen year old American–the second youngest person in the WTA Top 100–is a household name.
Stephens is a refreshing balance of youth and professionalism. I was lucky enough to get to spend some one-on-one time with her last Thursday at the launch of the new BENGAY® Zero Degrees™ at the London Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Relaxed on a sofa in a luxury suite with BENGAY products all around her and a company representative looking on, Stephens seemed as comfortable as she would have been on her best friend’s basement futon.
It was easy to forget about her age when she talked about her intense practice schedule, full-time trainer, and love for Paris and clay (yes–she said that clay was her favorite surface!). She was engaging, down-to-earth, and much more comfortable in her own skin than most girls her age. But the teenager mentality came shining trough from time to time- especially when I asked her what her main goal was. “To get 30,000 twitter followers,” she said with authority–followed by a laugh.
Twitter, however, is the only thing in her life that Stephens will attach a number goal to. Though after reaching the third round of Miami she will reach a career high of No. 75, she doesn’t pay attention to the rankings at all. “The rankings system is so off–I don’t even understand how it works,” she admitted. “I just want to, like, stay healthy and be happy.”
As personable as Stephens is, it’s hard to imagine her feeling out of place anywhere, but she insists there’s one place she’s not at ease –the women’s locker room. She realized at a young age (15 to be exact) that she was not a locker-room person. “I’m a germaphobe and people were walking around touching and hugging with no shirts on. I was like, ‘Whoa–you’re talking to me and you don’t have a shirt on! Where are your clothes?’ Now I just keep my head down.”
But just because she doesn’t socialize in the locker room doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any friends on tour. Stephens said that British player Heather Watson is one of her best friends, and she’s also friendly with the other American girls. “I’m friends with Jamie (Hampton), Christina (McHale), and Melanie (Oudin)–well, we don’t see Melanie as much anymore,” she said, trailing off. (Melanie Oudin has been in a much-publicized slump lately.)
Though she considers them friends, she prefers to keep things professional. She doesn’t share meals with other girls on tour the way the ATP players often do. “We’re not that close,” she laughed. “The guys, on court they want to kill each other, then they go out to dinner. They have a completely different competitive state of mind, “ she said. “Just how a guy lets go of a girl in a relationship–they can let go of the whole on-court, off-court thing easier.”
Speaking of the guys, the gorgeous 19-year-old is adamant that she doesn’t have anyone special in her life. “No, I wish…boys my age are crazy. You wouldn’t even believe some of these things that happen. Not worth the time.”
When I asked if there were any ATP players who caught her eye, she seemed appalled. “Eew, no! They’re gross. They’re really gross,” she exclaimed – before finally admitting that a couple weren’t that bad. “[Gael] Monfils and [Fernando] Verdasco are my favorites,” she said with a smile. “At the Indian Wells player party Monfils and I danced for a while–but not like that. He’s so funny!” She also nonchalantly shared tidbits about her playful relationship with Verdasco. “He is so nice. After I won my round one match at Miami he was practicing on the court next to me and he stood up on the umpire’s stand and was blowing kisses over to my court. We’re always telling each other we’re going to, like, get married and stuff.” Of course, she is quick to clarify. “He’s just kidding. He has a girlfriend. She’s really pretty. I’m not a homewrecker.”
Though happy to joke about her relationships with other players, her tone quickly changed to a more serious one when I ask her about the current state of women’s tennis. “We’re at a weird time. It’s complicated,” she admitted. “There’s nothing positive said about women’s tennis.”
Stephens, on the other hand, only had positive things to say about the current torchbearer of the WTA, number one Victoria Azarenka. “I love Vika. You could tell me she sucks toes, I wouldn’t care,” she laughed. “She’s been nice to me since I met her for the first time. She and my mom are always chatting it up. People are always telling me they hate her–I don’t know why.”
Similarly, she only has nice things to say about Venus and Serena Williams. “They’re so sweet. They’re always so nice. Serena lives two streets over from me in LA. We talk all the time.” She seems so casual about it–so unfazed by the fact that her idols growing up are now her Fed Cup teammates. Mainly she just admires them for their competitive side, on and off the court. At the tie earlier this year in Worchester, Massachusetts, they spent their evenings playing intense Taboo games. “Venus and Serena are really good. They are competitors. The first night [they played Taboo] I missed my first two words and Serena was like, ‘I’m trading you!’. Venus was like, ‘I don’t want her!’”
Though she shares a competitive nature with the sisters, there is one thing she is proud to not share–Serena’s online shopping addiction. In fact, Stephens insists she has never gone on an elaborate spending spree. “I have literally not spent over $100 on my credit card at one time,” she proclaimed proudly. In fact, money isn’t a factor for Stephens at all–and she fears the day when it becomes one. She was alarmed in the (dreaded) locker room recently when she overheard a fellow competitor talking about her struggles to pay rent. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t ever want to move out of my mom’s house.’ I don’t even pay any bills!”
The way Sloane’s career is going, she’s not going to have to worry about making rent for quite some time–though it might not be a bad idea for a future household name to get a house of her own.
I feel like the plethora of all the media sensationalism eager to turn the wta into some reality show makes her pretty reluctant to talk about relationships with other players. It’s interesting what’s changed (not that sloane has an obligation to be friends with anyone for that matter). But I had the privilege to be at her match out on court 15? on day one of the ao, and the way in which she interacted with her fans warmed my heart. She stopped to chat to little kids, asking them questions, signed heaps of oversized tennis balls, and even stopped to take selfies with people clamouring with their phones. I think if you strip away the media glare, the stories about shade and feuds, Sloane seems like a really humble, and simply, nice person.
I think there’s a very obvious turning point in their relationship. Last year’s Australian Open. I’m in the camp that doesn’t think Azarenka’s behavior was anywhere near the equivalent of triple homicide, but the media certainly seemed to think so, and it would not surprise me if Stephens now understands why “people hate her.”
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